On a recent holiday in Wales we discovered the National Botanic Garden. Only begun in 2000 as a millennium project, it is a wonderful place where we spent a glorious day exploring possibilities in gardens and indulged ourselves in warmth and the smells of the Mediterranean in the glass house.
Jay has often asked me how much time I spend when not writing thinking about writing, and I have to admit that it crops up constantly. Whilst exploring into Pembrokeshire from our base in Camarthenshire, I hauled him off to visit the Tudor Merchant’s house in Tenby. It was late in the day and closing time was creeping up on us, but we raced round the streets ignoring rock stick emporiums, purveyors of kiss-me-quick hats and burgerbars until we found it tucked away in a tiny corner, trying not to be noticed. Stone floors, stencilled wall decoration, open fire cooking, draped walls and wooden platters – there was a lovingly recreated Tudor home. It was the perfect research spot for my current writing, which is set at the end of the Jacobean period, in the deep countryside. Domestic living had changed little in that time and I revelled in pewter plate and small glasses, latrine towers and herb gardens until we were finally ejected back onto the streets. But by then Jay had indulged me with a spare £1 and I was clutching a photocopied booklet of Tudor recipies. Poor fellow – he is now about to be subjected to frumenty and wortes, but I have also promised him emelesand tardpolene to cheer him up afterwards.
So what has all this to do with natural forms, I hear you grumble. Why can she not stick to the point? Back to the National Botanic Garden…
Rain that came in a sudden showers out of a blue sky accompanied by a brisk breeze chased us into the glass houses.Inside we found warmth and the heady smells of Mediterranean vegetation. My mind wandered back to a storyline I planned several years ago, children making a journey down through France, and then onto another story, the one where another group of children living in the warmth and freedom of southern France foil the plans of some… But I will save that one for later.
We wandered on to the tropical glass house.
Huge leaves unfurled themselves around us and we stopped to admire. Hmm I thought, there is a point to be learned here; finish the full unfurling of a story and check that it has all its fine detail before moving onto the next. Those other stories slipped back into their storage compartment, where they are safely held until I am ready to concentrate on them properly.
“Look at these!” I exclaimed as we wandered round another column of greenery. I’ve seen those contorted bamboo plants that are grown in tidy spirals, sold to be stood in clear glass vases in minimalist hallways and sophisticated offices. Here were plants that of their own volition grew in spirals, forming crowns of glory, not quite repeating on themselves, close enough for us to see them as circles, but actually heading on to find the next point in their story. Another lesson – avoid making the story too neat and tidy, leave gaps for minds to make their own connections and then head on.
Only a few steps further on I was stopped in my tracks again. Here the leaves leaped in serrated steps, and then launched off at a tangent. Do not be afraid of changing directions if it fits with the pattern of the story, I told myself. And, as I dodged a spiky tip – chose the word that is right to the point.
I paused by the door as we prepared to head back into the cool of the outdoor garden, zipping up my jacket and pulling on a hat.
“And I need to remember that no matter how complex you always need to see into the heart of the story.” Jay put and arm round me and gave me a hug.
“This is supposed to be a holiday, too,” he reminded me.
“A wonderful holiday, that gives me good ideas and makes me think. The best kind of holiday,” I told him.